by Rachel DeShong, Special Event Coordinator and Map Curator
This blog post is the second in a series of three posts highlighting John Melish, a 19th century cartographer, and the impact his 1816 map, Map of the United States with the Contiguous British & Spanish Possessions, had on U.S. history.
The Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 was the culmination of prolonged boundary disputes between Spain and the United States. Spain was attempting to retain their colonial empire in the Americas which was crumbling at the hands of revolutionaries. The United States, on the other hand, was rapidly expanding its borders but was highly concerned about the British presence in Florida. Although officially recognized as Spanish territory, Florida was heavily influenced by British mercantilism. During the War of 1812, British naval vessels used Florida as a launching point for attacks on New Orleans and other ports of the American South. Moreover, the United States had growing concerns regarding the number of runaway slaves and Native Americans residing in Florida. For these reasons, both Spain and the United States sought a mutually beneficial compromise with Florida at the heart of the deal.
Luis de Onís y Gonzalez was the Spanish Foreign Minister who negotiated the treaty. Arriving in Washington, D.C. in October 1809, he was not recognized as a legitimate government representative at first due to a civil war in Spain. It was not until December 1815 that the United States formally accepted Onís’ credentials. Although negotiations commenced under Secretary of State James Monroe (before he became the fifth president), most of the results occurred under Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (who would become the sixth president.) After the finer points were settled, the Adams-Onís Treaty accomplished two of the Unites States’ major priorities:
- Spain ceded Florida to the United States.
- The United States now claimed a solid, international boundary extending from the American South to the Pacific Northwest.